Could Eagles Trade Brent Celek to Open up Bigger Role For Zach Ertz?


At this point, it’s unclear exactly who it was that selected Zach Ertz in the second-round of the NFL Draft in 2013. After his rookie season, Ertz seemed like a steal that was headed towards being one of the best vertical pass-catching threats at his position. After his Sophomore year in the NFL, Ertz looks like a good pick, but was far from one of the best at his position in 2014. The Eagles coaching staff didn’t even think he was the best tight-end on his team. And perhaps something needs to change in 2015, to assure that he gets enough snaps to thrive.

After the 2013 season, a year in which Celek had been reduced to mostly a blocking tight-end that was losing snaps to Zach Ertz late in the season, I wondered if perhaps the Eagles would ultimately release Celek. Not immediately, but perhaps after the 2014 season. That won’t be happening.

In 2014, Ertz was targeted 86 times and caught 58 balls for 702 yards. On paper, it looks like a good season. But Ertz’s effectiveness when he did see snaps left many frustrated that he didn’t see more time on the field.

Chip Kelly was careful throughout the course of the 2015 season to not make Ertz seeing less snaps look like a punishment. Kelly said this of Ertz, who he knew was disappointed with his role late in the season.

"“Brent’s an outstanding blocker. I think he may be the best blocking tight end in the league. I think he’s a sure‑handed receiver; he had a huge game against Carolina a week ago and had over 100 yards receiving. So, I don’t think it has anything to do with Zach. It has really to do with how well Brent Celek is playing.”"

And he’s a fan favorite. And when he has faced a reduced role in the passing game over the past two seasons, the 29-year old, who once had over 950 receiving yards in a season, has never complained. Celek has been the consignment professional. But the team may be better off without him next year, even if he was crucial to helping the team in 2014.

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Brent Celek is one of, if not, the best blocking tight-ends in the entire NFL. But Zach Ertz is an above-average blocker, who is quicker and more of a threat, both inside and outside, as a receiver. The 2013 Eagles were able to scheme Celek out because they had the best offensive-line in the entire NFL. The 2014 Eagles started the year with a four-game suspension to Lane Johnson, had Pro-Bowlers Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis miss good chunks of the year, and Todd Herremans missed the entire second-half of the season. With that, the Eagles struggled to protect the Quarterback and run the ball effectively early in the season, and needed Celek to come in and be an effective blocker.

In 2015, it’s fair–everyone hopes–to assume that the Eagles offensive-line isn’t going to be hit with as many injuries. As the line ages, the Eagles may be forced to spend a relatively high draft-pick and/or use free-agency to build young offensive-line depth, but they should still be a strong unit for a couple years to come. One would assume, subtracting Celek to potentially give Ertz more of a role would be a fairly seamless transition as the Eagles enter 2015 with a healthy offensive-line.

The Eagles theoretically could move on from Celek in the passing game as well, given that they have both Ertz and James Casey. Casey, the former fullback, can block well and appears to be a very serviceable pass catcher. He shines especially in the red-zone, in night games.

Could Brent Celek bid adieu to Philadelphia this off-season, if the Eagles are ready to make Zach Ertz a focal point in the offense in 2015?

Casey also has a $4 million cap-hit next year, which seems like a lot for a third tight-end. The Eagles could just release Casey, but given that he appears to be serviceable as a tight-end and plays a big role on special teams, something the Eagles appear very serious about, that would be a surprising move. Celek also has a $4.8 million cap-hit in 2015, and given LeSean McCoy’s salary spike and that extensions for Jeremy Maclin, Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks are on the to-do list for the off-season, that extra $800,000 may be big.

Again, if the Eagles chose to move on from Celek, it would be in some sort of trade, not a release. Celek’s value would likely be a late-round pick, but Chip covets picks, and with holes in the secondary, and extra depth needed at linebacker, offensive-line and wide receiver, every pick is another chance to fill a hole.

Make no mistake, his blocking ability, pass-catching success and reputation as a good locker-room guy would draw trade interest if the Eagles chose to move him. Whether or not the Eagles would move on from Celek for a late-round pick, when he is clearly worth more being on your team than that, remains to be seen.

What does not remain to be seen is that Ertz is ready to break-out. He caught 15 passes in the Eagles eventual Week 16 loss to the Redskins, and the passing attack appeared to be the most effective when he was involved. And despite the fact that Brent Celek has done a tremendous amount for this organization and is far from done, Ertz holds one of the keys to the passing attack opening up next year, and needs his fair share of snaps to effectively do so.

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